FOCUS: DESIGN AND PRINT; All part of the grand design

INTEGRATION: Consultancies and in-house are realising the benefits of taking a designer on board MAGAZINES: Contract publishing and in-house titles can become award winners with the use of bold images BRANDING: Design and PR considerations are integral elements in updating or creating any brand’s image

INTEGRATION: Consultancies and in-house are realising the benefits of

taking a designer on board

MAGAZINES: Contract publishing and in-house titles can become award

winners with the use of bold images

BRANDING: Design and PR considerations are integral elements in updating

or creating any brand’s image

With 80 per cent of information that a person receives being visual,

design has to play a vital role in any communications strategy. Mary Cowlett and Kate Nicholas report

You did the two day course and you can use the software. You can tint,

you can wrap, you can even import. But does being fully conversant with

the latest desk top publishing technology really mean that as a public

relations professional, you are also qualified as a designer?

In a crowded and integrated market place, a growing number of PR

consultancies have been broadening their horizons to offer design and

print production. Many of the larger agencies have set up their own

design facilities staffed by experienced designers.

In January this year Dick Lumsden former head of Paragon’s design and

production department crossed over to Charles Barker to spearhead its

move into the design arena. Ten months down the line, Charles Barker

Publishing is putting together display stands for the Tory party

conference, and adding a design dimension to the agency’s Motor Show

campaign with the in-house production of everything from publicity

posters and leaflets to press launch invitations and the publication of

the trade show brochure.

Hill and Knowlton has a dedicated creative department; Fishburn Hedges

integrated design and production resource supports its investor

relations work with production of annual reports and other literature;

and a four-strong team at Burson-Marsteller handles everything from the

design of branded banners and promotional tools to newsletters.

According to Burson-Marsteller production manager Steve Vaughan, the

main benefit of bringing a design facility in-house is the speed of

turnaround ‘Being in-house it [the design] is there instantly on the

screen if an executive wants to have a look at it.’

It is perhaps in the area of contract publishing that PR consultancies

have most effectively taken on the mantle of designer. Dewe Rogerson,

Citigate and Key Communications all have their own contract publishing

resources and Paragon even produces two customer magazines, Jubilee

Update for Jubilee line customers and Switched On for Hutchison Paging.

Citigate Publishing produces over 30 titles, including internal

publications for London Transport and the Police Federation. According

to creative director Graham Cook, one of the reasons for the division’s

success has been its ability to stand back from the kind of company

concerns that can lead to unacceptable compromises. We can be more

objective both in editorial and design terms as we are not involved in

the internal struggles of an organisation,’ he says.

But for many agencies - without the financial resources to buy in

qualified design staff - design is all too often underestimated as an

element of effective communication.

‘Most PR companies have been happy in the past to subcontract the design

element, on the basis that where they make their mark is in the

intellectual property,’ says Lumsdon, managing director of Charles

Barker Publishing.

‘PR companies often underestimate the power and potential impact of

design and view it as another way to make money out of clients,’ agrees

Guilia Landor, managing partner of Spencer Landor Corporate Design. ‘It

is a well known fact that 80 per cent of the information a person

receives is visual, design is therefore a vital part of any

communications strategy.’

Not surprisingly, Landor insists that ‘design and PR are quite distinct

specialisms/disciplines and therefore PR companies cannot offer the

standard or quality of design expertise and professionalism that design

companies can offer particularly on identity projects,’

Lorna Bateman, business development manager of design company Tayburn

McIlroy Coates agrees the majority of PR consultancies are somewhat

lacking in design skills. ‘The best and most effective creative work is

a result of a combination of years of design training, outstanding

creative ability, marketing understanding, technical expertise, strong

design management and ultimately passion for design and creativity. Show

me a PR person with these skills and I’ll tell you they should change

profession and become a designer not a PR manager.’

While it is hardly news that designers protect their own corner, the

plethora of mediocre invitations, press packs, press releases and

newsletters that land on editors’ desks every day testify to the

industry’s lack of visual acumen.

‘I would love to spend half a day collecting press releases from the bin

of a beauty or fashion editor on a top women’s consumer title.’ says

Nick Attenborough, managing director of Attenborough Associates. ‘We

need to think about how we present ourselves to the press.’

However, with an increasing emphasis on internal communications, many

agencies are finding themselves asked to take on the role of designer

and publisher of in-house newsletters by clients, when their design

facilities often consist of little more than an account executive on an

Apple Mac. But by diversifying in this way, aren’t PR professionals in

danger of becoming jacks of all trades and masters of none?

Paul Noble, leader of the public relations course at Bournemouth

University, says his students are all now required to study design,

photography and desk top publishing as part of the course, but insists

that the purpose of learning these skills is not so that they can double

up as publishers and designers, but so that they understand the

fundamentals of design. ‘It is not necessarily to be able to do it

themselves, but to know how to brief and deal with those that can.’

Ironically, while all too aware of the shortcomings of their own

clients’ briefs, it seems that a disturbing number of PR professionals

don’t know how to brief a design consultancy properly.

‘To get good design the brief is everything’ says Paul Houlton creative

partner of The Grand Design, a design company with a PR and marketing

arm. Houlton says that working with marketing or PR executives who fancy

themselves as designers is ‘a total nightmare’.

So what is the perfect brief? According to Houlton, a designer is most

creative and productive when given a structured marketing brief and

allowed to get on with what he or she is good at.

For example, last year design company Product First were given what must

be a dream brief by the Public Relations Practice on behalf of its

client British Steel Strip Products. As part of a campaign to promote

the potential of steel as a material to designers, the PR consultancy

asked Product First to sketch out a series of products showing the

potential of steel. ‘We gave them almost carte blanche and said ‘using

your design knowledge plus your knowledge of the materials, make

predictions about the way the product could be used.’’ The resulting

concept product sketches were so innovative that Turner was able to

arrange for two of the ideas - a futuristic dog kennel and TV - to be

made up and exhibited in the Design Museum.

While this kind of use of 3D design as a pivotal element of a PR

campaign is still relatively rare - with most agencies still struggling

with 2D graphics - with the increasing integration of marketing

disciplines, a real design sense is likely to become as important an

asset to the PR operator as a nose for a story.

Magazine design: Bold images put Alpha first at BNFL

Alpha, BNFL’s corporate magazine, was launched in April 1995 as a

biannual title. It has a print run of 14,000, around 40 pages and a

budget of pounds 35,000. With an editorial team of two, the magazine is

aimed at informing on nuclear issues and the company’s abilities and

activities in the UK and abroad.

The magazine has to communicate to a wide audience, from those working

in the industry to opinion formers and members of the public, all of

whom have varying levels of knowledge and different information needs.

Editor Steve Howarth is head of employee relations for BNFL and also

edits BNFL News, the monthly internal magazine. This means that a number

of items from BNFL News are expanded in Alpha and given a slant more

suitable for external consumption. Likewise some of the photographic

costs are shared between the two titles.

While the editorial and most of the supporting photography is provided

by BNFL, design is outsourced to Barkers Trident Communications, which

won the Alpha account because, says Howarth, their design stood out as

‘totally different from other magazine designs’.

Alpha is glossy with strong images and the overall design presents

information by topic, in an easy accessible format.

Alpha has also helped BNFL win credibility within the power industry by

featuring external experts and by not sugar coating the negative aspects

of the industry. While many of the images are bold, they do not duck

being brave. The launch issue sees a fist clenching President Clinton,

with an atomic weapon firing behind him.

Howarth stresses the importance of Alpha’s editorial integrity but

points out that as BNFL increasingly looks abroad for business, the role

of Alpha as the company’s ‘shop window to the world’ becomes more


The magazine is now used by BNFL’s International Marketing Department

rather than their own customer newsletter and in 1995, it won the North

west region IPR award for best newsletter.

Filofax: A new page in the history of the eighties icon

Filofax, the yuppie fashion and design icon of the 1980s, celebrated

it’s 75th anniversary this year. To publicise the event and enhance the

brand’s image, Attenborough Associates - Filofax’s retained agency since

September 1995 - came up with the idea of an integrated design campaign.

The aim was to update Filofax’s somewhat old fashioned image,

capitalising on the brand’s 75 year heritage and making the brand

relevant to today and the future.

In January 1996, Attenborough Associates commissioned design agency

Still Waters Run Deep to design a special anniversary pack to be sent to

journalists and trade customers. Produced as a poster in Filofax

colours, postcards were used to illustrate events from the past 75 years

that have affected modern times.

At the start of April a two week exhibition was held at the Design

Museum, entitled Filofax - Past, Present and Future. The exhibition,

organised by Orna Dawson, showed memorabilia, and current and futuristic

Filofaxes. These were mounted on huge Filofax- style pages incorporating

the ring binder effect. The exhibition was taken to Japan, Singapore,

Denmark, France and Germany and there are plans to take it to Norway and

the US.

In March, students at Central St Martin’s College were asked to create a

Filofax for the future reflecting likely lifestyles and materials for

the year 2071. They had to stick to the essential Filofax design of an

‘outer containing a loose leaf inner’. The winning entries were also

displayed in mock-up form in the Design Museum exhibition.

In August, the company launched 1,921 limited editions of its personal

organisers to be sold around the world based on a design owned by Grace

Scurr, who saved the company’s records in her ‘file of facts’ during the


At the moment the company is collecting personalised Filofax pages from

celebrities such as Dawn French and Claudia Schiffer to create a one off

limited edition Filofax to be auctioned in December in aid of the

charity, Save The Children.

‘Filofax is a very simple concept’ says Jill Pinnington, marketing

controller at Filofax. ‘We like to keep up with fashions using colours

and textures so design is important.’ She also points out that it was

fashion designer Paul Smith who started the Filofax trend of the 1980s,

by stocking it in his store.

Case study: Proving design and PR can go hand in hand

QuesTech is an independent UK manufacturer of digital video editing and

special effects equipment for UK and European broadcast and TV

production companies - in layman’s terms the people responsible for the

folding, flipping and peeling screens of shows such as Top of the Pops,

The Clothes Show and Top Gear.

Two years ago, the company hired PR consultancy Roger Staton Associates

and its sister company ArtHaus to co-ordinate an integrated media and

marketing campaign.

ArtHaus, Roger Staton’s highly profitable ‘sideline’ started life eight

years ago, when an increasing demand from the agency’s industry and

technology client base for associated design work, led to the hiring of

an in-house designer. Today ArtHaus, headed by managing director Mark

Luckett, has a staff of eight with around 50 per cent of its income

generated from independent clients including other PR consultancies.

According to Luckett, it was the close integration of the two

disciplines that attracted QuesTech. ‘They wanted a consultancy that

understood their products at a technical level but would use the

knowledge to communicate to a wider audience,’ he says.

Promoting QuesTech was particularly challenging given its diverse target

audience ranging from specifiers with a high level of technical

knowledge, to more creatively minded programme editors. As a niche

player, QuesTech was also in competition with major electronics

companies with a high street presence.

Roger Staton and ArtHaus were tasked with creating a unified graphic

presence out of the fragmentary approach which resulted from the

previous use of several design agencies.

Roger Staton and ArtHaus also faced the challenge of presenting highly

technical information in the kind of lively and creative manner that

would appeal to end users.

Roger Staton created the textual copy working in close conjunction with

ArtHaus to ensure that visuals and text complemented each other.

Together they produced a worldwide advertising campaign based on high

profile case histories, including work done for ITN, as well as company

brochures, technical literature, direct mail leaflets, exhibition

support and QuesTech’s web site.

Both Mark Luckett and Roger Staton Associates MD and namesake Roger

Staton are enthusiastic about their working relationship. Luckett says

that his PR counterparts have a good understanding of design - the only

problems he has ever faced have been when working with outside PR


‘You get a wider spectrum of ideas because of the spread of skills and

perspective on the business, plus clients get faster implementation in

creation and updating. Clients also like it because they only have to

brief one organisation, resulting in a unified approach,’ says Luckett.

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